Browse all reviews by letter     A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z 0 - 9

aka - Voyage Du Ballon Rouge, Le
France 2007
Directed by
Hou Hsiao Hsien
115 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Sharon Hurst
3 stars

Flight Of The Red Balloon

Synopsis: Suzanne (Juliette Binoche) is a single mum to seven-year-old Simon (Simon Iteanu). She is often absent, running a puppet show in which she adapts old Chinese legends. Her life is one big mess so to care for her young son, Suzanne hires a Chinese film student Song (Song Fang), who is making a film about a red balloon. Meantime young Simon keeps seeing a red balloon floating over Paris and which seems to follow him around.

In 1958 French filmmaker Albert Lamorisse made a now-classic short film called The Red Balloon in which a lonely boy befriends a red balloon. Hou’s first non-Asian film, part of a series initiated by the Musée d’Orsay, in which filmmakers must feature the museum in at least one scene, pays homage to this source. In a poignant scene schoolchildren (including Simon) sit in a group, discussing with their teacher a painting featuring a child with a red balloon and two parents in the far-off background perhaps keeping an eye on the child. This dovetailing, reinforced throughout the film with the Chinoiserie puppet play, and Song making her own film about a red balloon, was for me an all too contrived and neatly interwoven structure whose distancing effect was added to by the fact the actors were given no script whatsoever – simply a plot outline, and instructions to improvise..

However it is in the “slice of life” department that the film truly works, and mostly thanks to the ever-amazing talents of Binoche.  As the harried Suzanne she shines – with her bleached blonde hair and dishevelled appearance, her distracted, frustrated approach to everyday realities as compared to the absolute immersion and talent she brings to her puppet show. Binoche shows that she is an unafraid actor – fearless in how she looks and in stretching her abilities to the limit. The way the director and cinematographer have captured the chaos of Suzanne’s apartment only adds to the effect of authenticity, whilst the lovely gentle relationship between Simon and Song adds to our perception of how outsiders and alienated people will cling to each other when circumstances permit.

The metaphorical possibilities of the red balloon can be left up to the imagination of the audience. Whether you want to see it as a symbol of alienation and loneliness, or as a guardian angel watching over the boy, matters little. Those who like this sort of ethereal poetic symbolism will no doubt read much into it, those who are impatiently chafing for more plot will be easily bored. There is an uneasy balance of sensibilities in this film – on the one hand it strives to be very naturalistic, on the other there is an element of magic realism, but also an almost self-conscious inward-looking reflection upon the role of art itself, as reflected in the puppet show and the museum scene.

Mention must be made of the gorgeous soundtrack – melancholy piano music in many scenes and more popular French songs towards the end, again adding to the balancing act that portrays life as somewhere between tragedy and lightness of being. Despite frustrations with aspects of the film, I left the cinema with that bitter-sweet feeling that seems so typical of the charm of Paris itself.




Want more about this film?

search youtube  search wikipedia  

Want something different?

random vintage best worst